Birthday Gift 1792 Half Disme

Posted on 3/31/2015

Unusual presentation letter tells a wonderful story.

In US numismatics, oftentimes the provenance of only the very finest, highest grade coins has been recorded. Even for the very first coins struck at the US Mint, seldom can a coin’s history be traced back beyond the mid-20th Century. Recently, a well-circulated 1792 Half Disme was submitted to NGC with documentation that broke this normal mold.

1792 Half Disme NGC VG 10 given to Mary Brain Beach in 1872
Click images to enlarge.

The coin graded VG 10, showing deep patina, moderate to heavy wear and handling marks. Accompanying the coin was a letter that tells us much about this coin’s history. It reads as follows:

Springfield Dec 1872

Dear Little Mary:
     I send you a birth-day
present; not because a half-dime is
worth much, but it bears the date,
(1792) of your grandmother Brain.
     It is ten years older than your
grandfather Willard.
     You may perhaps give this
same little coin to your grand
child. U.S. coins of this size and
80 years old are not common now.
     As this will never grow any bigger
nor any better; but you will grow
bigger, - whether better or worse I can
not say.

Your grandfather Willard

The man presenting the coin was Levi Jefferson Willard, then living in Springfield, Ohio. The recipient was his granddaughter, Mary Brain Beach. As the note states, he was 70 years old when he gave the coin to the young girl for her birthday.

In his few words, much more is revealed. By 1872, coins of this type were already scarce enough to make this gift with a five-cent face value worthy of presentation – of course, today it is a much-prized rarity. Willard was also aware that the condition of the coin was not superb at the time the gift was given.

He ends his letter with a cheeky line, questioning whether his granddaughter will grow, “better or worse.” Perhaps, he meant this earnestly; how Mary grew up would be within her control. But more likely, it’s just said in jest. After all, this 70-year-old grandfather had just given his granddaughter a rather quirky gift and was probably having a bit of fun.

Letter written in 1872 by Levi Jefferson Willard, presenting the coin to his granddaughter.
Click image to enlarge.

Levi Willard died at the age of 81 in 1884, likely having gotten to see much more of how little Mary turned out. According to the envelope, the coin stayed in the Beach family for two more generations, passing from "Aunt Jessie" and to another "M. Beach."

The coin and documents were submitted to NGC by Numismatic Financial Corporation of Winter Springs, FL. The certification label displays the pedigree “Presented to Mary Brain Beach, 1872.” The letter and envelope were also placed in a holder by NGC designed for long-term storage, made from the same preservation-grade material used by PMG to encapsulate currency. While no longer in the possession of the Willard-Brain-Beach family, together these wonderful items will surely be preserved and passed on to future generations of collectors.

Interested in learning more about the 1792 Half Disme? Check out the NGC Coin Explorer for images, a description, Census figures, auction prices and more.

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